For a change, it’s not just farmers who are eagerly greeting new malting barley varieties. Maltsters, too, are singing the praises of emerging varieties intended to replace the big two.
The Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre’s 2018-19 list of recommended malting barley varieties emphasizes growing demand for AAC Synergy, plus two new varieties, AAC Connect and CDC Bow.
“I think brewers are very content with Copeland and Metcalfe… but at the same time I think they do recognize that if they want to have a consistent, good-quality supply from Canada, they are going to have to start looking at some of these new varieties that are more agronomically promising for growers,” says Lorelle Selinger, Cargill Malt’s North American merchandising manager.
In 2017, malting varieties accounted for 60.8 per cent of total barley seeded area, with CDC Copeland and AC Metcalfe representing about 81 per cent of the malting total. For the second straight year, Copeland seeded area significantly exceeded Metcalfe area at 49 per cent.
“Copeland is the most popular variety grown in Western Canada because of its diversity in both export and craft brewing markets,” says Kevin Sich, Rahr Malting Canada’s supply chain director.
But in the opinion of Michael Brophy, president and CEO of the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute, the industry would benefit from some of the new varieties challenging Copeland and Metcalfe.
“They are higher yielding for growers and will make malting barley a more agronomically competitive cereal choice in a crop rotation, as well as having potential malting and brewing quality advantages,” Brophy says.
Licensed to Syngenta Canada, Synergy two-row malting barley yields 10 to 20 per cent above Metcalfe, and five to 15 per cent higher than Copeland, the company says.
Growers have already taken a liking to it, making it the third-most popular variety planted in 2017 as Synergy represented 7.43 per cent of total area seeded to malting barley.
Maltsters are showing interest, too.
“Cargill Malt is running a Synergy program this year; this will be our third year,” says Selinger. “With acres declining of Metcalfe, we’re looking at other alternatives. Synergy is one of those options.”
Rahr is also buying Synergy.
“Synergy is becoming more popular and acres have been increasing yearly, but still not sure if it will become the next Copeland or Metcalfe,” Sich says.
Also expressing doubt is Robert Chappell, director of grain for Canada Malting.
Whereas Copeland and Metcalfe have intermediate tolerance to fusarium head blight, Synergy is actually moderately susceptible to the fungal disease, putting it at greater risk of not being selected for malt.
Synergy also hasn’t yet achieved very good acceptance offshore or from the Canadian trade, Chappell adds.
“There are some maltsters in Canada, including ourselves, that will probably use it for 10 to 20 per cent of our entire needs,” Chappell says. Canada Malting’s overall demand is 525,000 tonnes.
A number of malting and brewing companies in North America have been undertaking commercial testing of both Connect and Bow in 2017 and 2018, says Brophy.
“Malting barley growers contracting with these companies will be hearing from them over the next year or more as to related commercial demand,” Brophy says. “Growers should keep their ear to the ground and talk with their local malting company rep on opportunities to switch to these varieties.”
Cargill Malt is one of those conducting trials with Connect and Bow.
“The bottom line is we want to find varieties that are agronomically strong for the growers but malt well in our facility and still meet the brewers’ needs. The process takes time but it’s really an important process,” says Selinger.
Chappell is high on Connect, praising its agronomic and malting characteristics.
“It’s going to be a perfect fit for the eastern Prairies because of its moderate resistance to fusarium head blight,” he says. “If we get another wet growing season, we’re going to have another issue with DON and fusarium head blight, and we’re hoping Connect is going to be a partial solution to that problem.”
But Chappell won’t make any definite conclusions about the variety’s ability to weather challenging growing conditions until it’s proven in the field.
An ideal growing season last year resulted in 85 per cent selection rates for the first commercial batches of Connect.
“We found out that perfect Connect does make a very good malt,” Chappell says.
As a low-soluble, moderate free amino nitrogen (FAN) malt barley, Connect would appeal particularly to brewers who don’t use high adjuncts, like craft brewers that produce an all-malt beer, he explains.
Bow is another promising variety.
“We’re really excited about Bow,” says Chappell, who lauds its strong straw and standability. “Malting barley doesn’t stand up like wheat does; it lays down, especially if you get winds and winds with rain.”
It’s a variety very similar to Metcalfe, although 2011 and 2012 Western Cooperative Barley Registration Trials pegged average yields nine per cent higher.
“If you’re selling to an adjunct brewer, Metcalfe, Kindersley or Bow are the varieties you’d like for them,” says Chappell.
Unfortunately, Bow, like Synergy, is moderately susceptible to fusarium, leading Chappell to conclude it’s not ideal for the eastern Prairies or southern Alberta.
But before farmers try planting malt barley varieties outside of Copeland and Metcalfe, they first should ensure they’ve got a home for what they grow.
“I would definitely recommend that they have a conversation with either a local grain company or maltster just to make sure there is a demand and they have somewhere to sell it if it is malting quality,” says Selinger.